Today is Juneteenth and somehow, I never even heard about the significance of this day until I was over forty years old. My guess is that many Americans still have zero idea about the significance of June 19th—Juneteenth—but there will be celebrations around the country to honor this hugely important day in our nation’s history. It is commonly known as the Black Fourth of July since, in 1776, countless African Americans in this country were denied even the slightest taste of freedom. They were slaves for another 110 years until on June 19th, 1865 the last 250 slaves were freed in Texas.
It is a known and meaningful day to many Americans, which brings up the question of why it is not a known and meaningful day to all Americans.
Our awareness gap may be reflective of a more significant issue. Historiographer James Loewen—who studies how we study history—spent two years at the Smithsonian studying American history textbooks. He found that they tend to present slavery as if it was an external event, like a natural disaster. “Somehow we ended up with four million slaves in America but no owners,” he writes in Lies My Teacher Told Me.
So to all who wonder why July 4th doesn’t feel the same to all Americans, our nation’s history of slavery is a big part of the answer. The life of an enslaved person didn’t change much whether under the rule of England or a newly independent United States of America.
The video of Juneteenth celebrations is a courtesy of Education Post.